Alaska Governor Sarah Palin discussing when she would deploy "nucular weaponry," the "be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet," as she put it in last night's vice presidential debate. She never actually answers the question.
So, you think it looks really good for Barack Obama. Well, maybe so. After all, the economy is in the tank, he's moving ahead in battleground states, John McCain has backed off his big attempt to win Michigan (where Obama never campaigned in the primary and which, until recently, had a disgraced African American mayor of one of America's most dysfunctional big cities). Sarah Palin, though she didn't further humiliate herself in last night's debate, clearly lost to Joe Biden. Oh, and the economy is in the dumper, credit markets are locked down, and McCain is tightly tied to the administration which not only mismanaged the US economy but also not one, but two wars.And yet, Barack Obama can still lose this election. Though I'm not planning to head over to Vegas to shoot craps (John McCain's favorite), or indulge in any other form of gambling on that deal.
Here are 12 key reasons why this is still not over.
** Steve Schmidt is Mike Martz. John McCain's campaign director, the sort of Karl Rove acolyte who doesn't like that notion, though he ran the Bush/Cheney war room in 2004, who I know very well from his turnaround management of Arnold Schwarzenegger's landslide 2006 re-election as California's governor. He is the national political equivalent -- at least in this crazy race -- of the NFL coach Mike Martz. "Mad Mike," as he's known, was the master of the hurry-up-offense and the trick play as the coach of the "Greatest Show On Turf," the famed St. Louis Rams offense of the late '90s and early part of this decade. I won't bore you with football talk, or the details of what actually underlies what Schmidt is up to -- something I discussed with him at length two years ago called "the Boyd Cycle," a theory of warfare developed by retired Air Force Colonel John Boyd that is focused on a series of very rapid analyses and disorienting moves-- but suffice it to say that McCain was dead in the water when Schmidt took over three months ago and then bedeviled Obama constantly until the present financial fiasco. The one other thing I'll say about the Mike Martz offense is that all its inherent risk-taking allows an aggressive opponent to sack the quarterback on a regular basis.
** The return of Mike Murphy. When Schmidt was taking over in early July, yet another former chief strategist to Arnold Schwarzenegger I know well, McCain's former senior strategist Mike Murphy, made a move to return to Team McCain at its head. Murph made the mistake of doing this through the media, mainly through the frequently erroneous propagandist Bill Kristol. Ironically, I think Schmidt and Murphy could have worked together. But Murphy's media moves made it impossible, not that he knew that, so he ended up on MSNBC, getting dissed by Keith Olbermann. But I hear he has another comeback bid in the works. Murphy represents a kinder, gentler John McCain. Who America has to see again at some point if he is to win this election. One problem. He's seriously dissed Schmidt and the rest of the McCain high command. In public. Oops.
** A calmer John McCain. But can McCain be a calmer, kinder, gentler candidate again? In his first debate with Obama which, as I predicted, he lost, he was deeply perturbed. He seems very put out at the thought that he has to put up with Obama. Who he memorably said in May -- when Obama was ripping him for unsuccessfully opposing former Navy Secretary-turned-Virginia Senator Jim Webb's New GI Bill -- was "not even qualified to discuss veterans and military matters." One thing is clear, if America keeps seeing the angry and entitled John McCain going up against a cool and authoritative Obama in these debates, this election will not be close.
Could Jeremiah Wright return front and center to the American political stage?
** America "turns the page" back to a calmer economic moment, enabling cultural issues to come to the fore. Some say it's just bad luck that McCain is running against Obama in a year of economic crisis. Others think it's poetic justice, since he has mainly supported the Bush/Cheney economic policies. Whichever it is, McCain needs a greater sense of calm in the US economy. It could happen.
** The closed credit spigot is opened. Of course, in order for Team McCain to turn the page away from a pervasive sense of economic crisis, the locked credit market must become decidedly unlocked. Right now, the State of California is in deep crisis, with its usual cash-flow issue at this time of year metastasizing in to potential disaster as the usual lenders turn a deaf ear. This is going on everywhere. Of course, if big financial concerns really want a continuance of Republican governance in the White House, they can start lending money. We'll see how they "vote."
** McCain finds an economic initiative ... other than suspending his campaign to pass the Wall Street bailout bill, earmark reform, and big tax breaks for corporations and the rich. The campaign suspension fell flat, as McCain delivered nothing much and ended up debating Obama last week anyway. Earmark reform, well, hardly any voters know what that bit of Potomac-speak means and it's a drop in the bucket of the federal deficit anyway. The tax breaks? "Joe Sixpack" on "Main Street" sitting around his "kitchen table" -- and each of those are egregious cliches used by supposed populists who don't know many people outside their very own elite bubbles -- doesn't relate to big corporate tax breaks.
Schwarzenegger had a big infrastructure program that was central to his re-election campaign. Maybe McCain can do something to stimulate the economy. Or push for a health care program. Something that concretely gets things moving or helps "average people," another pol-speak cliche, with their real lives.
With an easy win over John McCain's friend Misha Saakasvhili in the Georgian war, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proclaims there will be no "new Cold War" as he courts German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
** The debate shifts to national security. McCain, of course, sees himself as a wartime president. And we are at war. It's just not war that is presently playing to his 20th century war hero strengths. But a sudden crisis that people relate to -- not Russia's easy war with Georgia, prompted by McCain's rather gullible friend Misha Saakashvili's predictably backfiring baiting of the bear -- could shift things quickly. This would not be triggered by McCain, a man of honor in these areas. It might be triggered by someone abroard who wants McCain elected, for their own purposes. As with Osama bin Laden's very late move in 2004, which helped stop John Kerry's late surge against President Bush.
John McCain's new attack ad hits Barack Obama as an inveterate tax raiser of the far left masquerading as a center-left political figure.
** The campaign refocuses on Obama. Clearly, the McCain campaign wants the focus all on Obama, his youth, his relative inexperience, his relatively exotic background, his supposed economic, social and geopolitical radicalism, and his associations with Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, etc. This means a highly negative campaign, waged both by McCain and aligned entities. This is tried and true for the Republicans.
** The media is cowed. One thing the McCain campaign has proved expert in is cowing the media. It helps that they don't really want to be pals. McCain did, famously so. But that was then and this is now. The frequently over-the-top reaction to Sarah Palin and her various melodramatic modes from the media and others actually is very helpful in this. Because then the media has to correct for its behavior. Which, had it been steady and focused all along, would not be the case. Schmidt, while shepherding Bush Supreme Court nominees, demonstrated early on his ability to take media outlets out of play. That's still happening.
** For a very current example, despite Schmidt and company's yeoman work in prepping Sarah Palin to give a mostly unembarrassing performance last night, it's not unlikely that Palin would have ended up turning in another ABC or CBS-caliber performance. But, with the media somewhat intimidated after its earlier feeding frenzy when she was named, the format did not allow for ready follow-up questions.
** As a result, Palin on many occasions ignored the question she was asked and talked about something else. Literally, amazingly, expressly, by her own statements.
** Finally, moderator Gwen Ifill was not at all aggressive, having had her professionalism impugned by the revelation that she is writing a book about the age of Obama. A very bad idea for the sole moderator of a debate, obviously. And which the McCain campaign knew about, naturally, and "revealed" just before the debate. Making it not a revelation at all, but an effective move.
So, while the stars are (mostly) aligned for an Obama victory, it ain't over till it's over.